How can we generate greater compassion for ourselves and others?
Generating greater compassion for ourselves and others is interlinked with an ability to forgive, empathise and recognise our common humanity. This empathy and forgiveness arises from the awareness that we all make mistakes and none of us are 'perfect'. When we continue to hold on to our personal suffering, including the resentment and anger we have for those who caused harm or acted “wrongly” toward us or others, we only self perpetuate a cycle of more suffering and pain. We may end up projecting this suffering onto ourselves, others and the world around us.
In Buddhism, compassion is defined as the desire to alleviate suffering from oneself, others and the world. To end this destructive cycle, we must transform the energy of our pain and conflict into the energy of unconditional love and forgiveness.
Generating a compassionate attitude can be done through a regular meditation practice, in which we move away from our habitual and limiting beliefs and move towards greater self-awareness. Through a meditation practice we learn to choose our emotional reactions and responses to events around us. It is an act of sitting daily with our emotions, our mental and physical pain and allowing whatever arises to be there, without being caught up in the judgements or forming an attachment to the stories that arise.
Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach blends Western psychology with Eastern spiritual practices and shares a four-step process in which to allow such compassionate awareness to emerge. The meditation RAIN is an acronym for the following process: Recognize what is present, Allow what is present to be there, Investigate what the purpose is, and Nourish what is present with self-compassion and acceptance. When we practice this exercise, we may experience our wounds unfolding with greater intensity and in such instances it becomes necessary to maintain a compassionate space for our suffering to be there. It is important to welcome our vulnerabilities, and recognise the meaning behind the struggle or pain that has been presented to us. This ultimately supports our ability to heal.
Living with compassion means being conscious that we each have a collection of stories that have led to our state of being and how we perceive the world. It means accepting all elements of our stories and all parts of ourselves to be present. As we explore our personal stories, we see how our traits are constantly being reflected back at us in the qualities of others. What we judge in other people often highlights the parts of ourselves which we perceive as negative and we may try to suppress or deny. This is what C.G. Jung famously called the shadow. Generating kindness and acceptance for these parts of ourself help us to integrate our shadow. It is necessary to embody all parts of ourselves as we work towards greater wholeness.
Creating space for self-compassion allows us to recognise how we operate from a specific set of values and beliefs that are multi-layered and continuously shifting and transforming. Our personality, way of being and relating to others is created from a lifetime of experiences and memories that have come together, forming our extraordinary and unique selves. Living with self-compassion involves accepting and respecting our differences without judgement and without trying to force each other to fit into a specific mould. This enables us to realize that we’re each at different stages of our journey and conscious evolution.
Kindness, Common Humanity and Mindfulness
As we continue to live a life filled with compassion we start to heal the relationship with ourselves and others. We begin to forgive and accept each other’s vulnerabilities, flaws and embrace our common humanity. Dr. Kristin Neff suggests self-compassion consists of three main elements: kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. The ultimate act of compassion is when we can empathise with the experience of another person. With this empathy we create deeper and more wholesome connections with others and our environment.
Our Human Experience
Not all our experience and interactions are filled with peace, love and joy. There is pain and suffering within our lives and this is a natural part of our human experience. When we are compassionate toward ourselves and others, we recognise that our emotions, experiences and beliefs have a right to be there. When we bring awareness to these emotions and the sensations they produce in our bodies, we recognize their importance. What are these emotions and sensations trying to show or tell us?
We tend to reject emotions certain “negative” emotions and cling to other more desirable ones. Rejecting or suppressing emotions only gives them greater power, and allows them to manifest in our lives and bodies in other ways such as physical tension, illness or even emotional and physical burnout. When we hold onto emotions our bodies tense and we unconsciously try to resist our experiences rather than releasing them or letting go. Instead of suppressing or ignoring these emotions, we may acknowledge them and gently let them surface into awareness.
Investigating our Emotions
Having done this, we can investigate where these feelings rest within our body. What are the sensations associated with these emotions? How do they manifest in our dreams, our waking life, and our interactions with others? How can we acknowledge them with gentle, loving-kindness? Only then, do we begin their transformation and ultimate release. Meditation provides a space for stillness and can allow these emotions to arise with gentle acceptance. It’s incredible what can shift when we surrender to our experiences and the flow of life.
Showing compassion toward yourself and others means embracing that the way we experience this world and our reactions are specific to us, and in this way - we are imperfectly perfect. There’s nothing we must change, improve and nowhere we must go. There is a reason for being where we are at this point in time. It’s comforting to rest in the awareness that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be and there are lessons and learning that come from all experiences - even the most painful ones.
To accept ourselves as we are doesn’t mean we stop striving, transforming and growing. If we are loving and tender toward what we perceive to be our flaws, we make space for both acceptance and transformation. Living with compassion means we send love and kindness to every part of ourselves, accepting the way we are at this moment in our lives. We can then share this unconditional love and acceptance with others and with this realisation, we create the space to embody the qualities that make us both unique and imperfectly-perfect.
Join my small-group workshop, November 18th, 7-8.30pm where we'll talk about cultivating greater self-compassion. During this workshop we will discuss how to cultivate self-compassion. We will cover: What is self-compassion? The benefits of self-compassion and some common myths. I'll share some techniques including Kristin Neff’s 3-Part Process and Tarah Brach's RAIN Meditation.